Sunday, May 26, 2013

Professor for one year (week 7): What is good teaching?

Universities start to hand out "teaching awards".  It's interesting to look at the criteria.

At the University of Zurich, this year's teaching award focused on supporting students during writing a research paper.  The lecturer definitely deserves the award.

However, some statements in the news report made me wonder:  Offering feedback to students' writing, encouraging critical thinking, treating students as prospective colleagues -- isn't that something all lecturers should always aim for in all lectures?  Why is it something special if someone emphasizes self-directed learning?  Why is it notable if someone asks students to hand in a first draft for getting feedback before submitting the final paper?  Why is it surprising that students like challenges?

In my seminars, students have to submit a handout for presentations.  They submit a first version, get feedback, and then the revised version is graded and distributed to all students.  For seminar papers, I demand a proposal including the research question, proposed approaches, and relevant literature.  We then talk about it to improve the problem statement, I recommend further literature, and we discuss the outline of the paper. 

The topics are generally defined rather loosely, giving students the opportunity to make connections to their “other” interests (either outside university or from a different subject) and forcing them to come up with a concrete project proposal themselves.  This requires them to define criteria to estimate success or failure of their project.  This also allows students to judge their own results.  Students rate my courses as challenging but very helpful for understanding a new topic and developing general academic skills.

I always thought, supporting students' learning processes is one of the major tasks of a professor.  Apparently, you can even get an award for your daily work.

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